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  • Writer's pictureRobyn Ashley Schleihauf

Play until the streetlights come on

Trigger warning: the following references emotional abuse and sexual violence

I close my eyes and swing, the bat an extension of my scrawny arms and, when I hear the crack, I open them again. Shamelessly I ignore the rule of keeping my eye on the ball and instead I let the bat go and run, run, run towards first base, head down. I have a feeling the ball has gone somewhere towards third base but when I stamp my feet on first and look up, Adam is running in from the outfield and I am safe. Adam is fast but there are only six of us playing which means I am only contending with a pitcher, a first baseman and a short stop/third baseman/outfielder. One of my own teammates plays catcher and we trust each other to play fair. Next week when we play manhunt and I catch the cuff of my jean jacket on the six foot chain-link fence and Brent knows that he could kill me out of the game, this precariously hanging duck, he will climb the fence and set me free, then count to seven or eight or some other arbitrary length of time under his breath so that I have more than a fair chance to climb a tree and hide or just get the hell out of there.

I have one foot on first base and the other planted firmly towards second, grinning with a scuffed knee. It’s the top or bottom of some inning, we’ve lost track but it’s an important inning nonetheless. Amy is up to bat and she’s good. Adam is stumbling backwards into our makeshift outfield. The streetlights come on. It’s time to go home but I urge Amy to bat, if we get this run, we get the game and we can’t pick it up tomorrow because tomorrow is totally different. Allan and I might have too much math homework or we might have to babysit his little sister Carly and then the teams will be all screwed up. Amy bats and hits it and I run-eyes closed, then open, then closed again, a slow-motion blinking game. I’m safe, then Amy’s safe and for half a second we can ignore the yells of our parents from opposite ends of the street and take in the glory.

I shout a goodbye and skip over to my parents, still reeling from the glorious, earth-shattering win. My dad brought the wagon along to pick me up, which I am obviously too old to enjoy but happily jump into as soon as we round the corner.

I don’t know it yet but some of the other kids will get in trouble when they get home. Their tired limbs might drop a glass onto tiled floor and shatter it, or they might have to apologize for their grass-stained clothing. My parents bring me home to dig out the chocolate side of the neopolitan ice-cream because I like my flavours to stay separate. I’ll only dig at the others when the chocolate is gone. My cousin Annie loved strawberry ice cream but then she became allergic to strawberries.

It’s going to be my birthday soon. I will be ten years old and this feels like a big deal. It’s a huge step towards adulthood, this moving into the double digits. All the girls in my class are invited to my party but Amy isn’t because she goes to the public school instead of my Catholic school and this is the only way we could make it fair. My actual birthday is Wednesday but my party is on Saturday. My parents take me and my older brother and sisters out for supper on my actual birthday, which I think parents must do because that’s what they want on their actual birthdays instead of the macaroni cards I make for them and the roast beef they make for themselves. But there are presents and the waiters make everyone sing so it seems like a big deal. My mom and dad got me this pink plastic watch that I wanted with Jem and the Holograms on the face. It isn’t digital but that’s ok because I know how to tell time properly. I also know how to dial a rotary phone even though my friend Kate doesn’t.

I wear my watch to school. During class I check it to see how many minutes until recess. Time stops moving from activity to activity and instead reveals the day’s schedule, structured and predictable.

I remember babysitting one of my nieces once when I was in my late teens – she, frustrated and pouting, refusing sleep and me, feeling a moment of quite recent nostalgia for that defiance, that refusal to acknowledge the relevance of time and its indelible march forward. A few hours of good sleep lost here and a few hours of good humour lost there. It makes me remember being nine again, that year of streetlights, the year before the watch, the last year of my being just a kid, really.

That was the year before I got stalked by one of the older boys at school. I remember him following my school bus on his bike, pedaling fast with a wild look of intensity in his eyes. That next summer he would hide in the bushes outside my house waiting for me to go to the park. When I left the house, he would roughly pin me down, trying to make me kiss him. He would tell me he loved me and then he would tell me he hated me and he would call me and tell me he would kill himself if I hung up the phone. I said nothing, stayed silent, struggled away, tried to ignore it. My mom would come by, take one look at my face and hang the phone up in its cradle. I would start to cry and tell her, “He’s standing on a chair and there’s knives on the floor all around him! He’s going to jump and they’ll cut him up to death!” and she would pull me close and tell me that wasn’t possible, that he was making things up because he was very troubled.

When I was in my last year of university, my mom called me one morning around 8:00am. I had just gotten off of a midnight shift working at the front desk of a student residence building. Head foggy, I answered the phone. My elementary school stalker had been caught, convicted and sentenced for a series of sexual assaults. Time collapsed in on itself. I stopped walking and steadied myself against a tree. I saw his face as he held me down. I listened as my mom told me he had stalked single women. He broke into their homes when he knew they were alone.

I wonder what he believed himself to be at the age of twelve. I wonder if his suicide threats were coming from a rooted knowledge that he would never know a normal love or if his condition was so firmly entrenched, even in his young soul, that he was just trying as best he could to manipulate me and force my will. After I got off the phone with Mom, I stepped off the curb to cross the street. Someone pulled me back onto the sidewalk by my shoulders, just in time, as I felt a strong gust of wind from the passing city bus push across the front of my face. I turned to a young man whose face I no longer recall. “Thank you,” I whispered, before looking back to where the bus had come from and crossing the road, heart pounding, once my light changed to green.

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